The Specialty Food Association will host Specialty Food Live!, a virtual event that will connect specialty food makers and buyers, Sept. 21 – 24.
As part of the event, food makers will showcase their new and bestselling products in virtual showrooms and be available to interact with buyers from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, on show days. Qualified, specialty food buyers will have the ability to discover the exact types of products they’re looking for and be matched with makers they may not have known about.
“Specialty Food Live! was carefully crafted with input from our community, married with world-class technology to produce a virtual experience unlike any other,” said Bill Lynch, interim president of the SFA. “Rather than trying to replicate a trade show in an online environment with an off-the-shelf technology offering, we focused on an experience based on extensive product search capabilities and matchmaking. We believe this approach will be the most effective way for our maker members to connect with buyers to effectively and efficiently conduct business.”
Buyers will have the ability to search for products by category or subcategory, a range of product attributes such as keto or vegetarian, and based on their newness to the market, explained Leo Squatrito, vice president of member development and outreach for the SFA. Virtual exhibitors can also be sorted by their status as a B Corp and whether they are women-owned, LGBTQ-owned, and veteran-owned, for instance.
Communications between makers and buyers will be initiated via chat or email and meetings will be held through video conferencing. Buyers will be able to request samples from makers with the click of a button.
Specialty Food Live! will also include a virtual tasting component whereby food makers with new products will put samples in the hands of buyers in advance of the tasting, and pitch them live via video conferencing. Each tasting session will focus on a specific category such as chips, pretzels, snacks or condiments, dressings, marinades, and will take place at 11 a.m., 1 and 4 p.m. on show days. Each session is limited to five food makers and up to 30 buyers. The deadline to register for virtual tastings is Sept. 4.
Educational sessions with programming geared toward all attendees will take place on a virtual main stage at noon on show days. Attendees will have the ability to ask questions of panelists and presenters who will include industry innovators and leaders in retail and e-commerce. Topics will include the latest product trends, what’s hot in foodservice, consumer purchasing behavior, predictions for the future of specialty food, and more.
“Change is happening so quickly right now and the SFA works very closely with research partners and experts on the frontlines of retail, product development, and distribution, so these sessions are a great way to catch up on what’s happened during the pandemic and plan for the coming months in your business,” said Gretchen Van Esselstyn, director of education for the SFA.
Big Idea sessions will take place at 4 p.m. daily and focus on topics such as plant-based consumption trends during COVID-19 and CBD in food and beverage. Attendees will also hear from the young innovators on SFA’s 12 Under 35: Breakout Talent to Watch list and explore observations related to the products showcased at the event, with SFA’s Trendspotter Panel of food writers, researchers, buyers, educators, and industry watchers.
In addition to connecting via the virtual marketplace, attendees will have the chance to network during evening events. Mixology Monday: Cocktail Kick off with Top Mixologist Mia Mastroianni, will take place on Monday, Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. Mastroianni, who has appeared on the Bar Rescue TV show, will create two cocktails featuring specialty food items. The list of required ingredients will be sent in advance so that attendees can follow along at home.
Wine Down Wednesday with Sommelier Amanda McCrossin will take place Sept. 23 at 6 p.m. Known as Napa Valley’s “Sommvivant,” McCrossin will walk participants through two Napa Valley wines (a red & a white) from one of her favorite Napa wineries. Information about the wines will be shared in advance so that participants may purchase them and taste them at home.